Sunday, January 3, 2010

Teenage Mutant Ninja Spike

A couple of months ago, I did a little post mentioning that my friend, Chris MacDougall, was in town to give a reading from his new, bestselling book Born To Run, which is not, as you might judge from the title, an analysis of Springsteen lyrics. Instead, he tells the tale of the Tarahumara Indians, who live in Mexico's Copper Canyons, and these folks can run far (hundreds of miles) and long (into their 90s). (You can see a clip of him being interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show here.) Unlike most American runners, the Tarahumara don't suffer tons of foot related injuries. In fact, they seem to not suffer at all. And, check it, they wear sort of low-end flip-flops.
Chris also tells of his own running-- from some serious pain to some serious success, which he chalks up to running right and running either barefoot or in Vibram Five Fingers, which are sort of gloves for your feet, with no support, so that wearing them is very much like being barefoot, except you do get a little layer between your foot and, say, a sharp pebble.. The idea is that our feet get messed up from shoes with too much support and they "forget" stuff they're supposed to do. If you switch to no support, then your feet start to remember and, voila, your problems go away.
I had lunch with Chris when he was in town, and I told him about my own foot troubles. In 2005, after spending more than a dozen years walking anywhere from 4 to 10 miles daily, my right foot gave out. I was in constant agony, reduced to using a cane, and even scored a handicapped parking tag (which is less fun than it sounds, if you consider the tradeoff). I was devastated, since my long walks had been a crucial part of my stay fit plan-- I'd lost fifty pounds walking back in 1993, and also I found that distance walking helped me fend off my cyclical depression.
I was lucky enough to have a kind surgeon in Chicago restructure my foot as a gift (a long story I've detailed numerous times, so I'll spare the six of you a repeat). Still, the surgeon told me that there's a good chance my foot-- which suffered from a structural problem plus a loss of cartilage-- might likely wear out again. So I shifted down to walking only 1 - 2 miles a day, and I got pretty sloppy about it, sometimes not sticking to a daily routine for months at a time.
I also told Chris that I'd been fascinated by the Vibram Five Fingers, but hadn't committed to getting a pair. I was a little put off by the price -- they run around a hundred bucks, which with my feet, is the low-average price I pay for good shoes. Still, not knowing how good they'd be (or not) I waffled. Also, they are utterly ridiculous looking. I'd tried on a pair at REI and a) it took about a half hour for me to get the things on and b) once I did, I had to laugh at how silly they look.
Chris, who was wearing a pair at the time, swears by the shoes, and told me I should try them out. So I contacted the company, told them I was up for writing an ongoing review if they were up for sending me a pair. They arrived right before I left for France, and even though I knew I could make a pretty exciting fashion statement in Paris wearing them, they don't provide warmth, and it's effing freezing in Paris right now. So I gave them a quick test run around the house, and then set them aside for my return.
Now I'm back, and I've been wearing them for a couple of days. These shoes are really, really wild. I'm not sure yet if they are making life better or worse or neither, but my initial sense is that they are improving things. Also, I am improving at getting them on, and can now get through the process without having to use my hands. This suggests that my toes are getting the hang of spreading out on demand. Which is not something my toes knew how to do before, despite practicing toe-spreading (that sounds pornographic) in yoga class for years. (Which reminds me, my awesome yoga teacher was an early adopter of the VFF and she LOVES hers.)
To be totally honest, my left pinky toe has had a little bit of a tough time adjusting, and I feel a blister starting up on the back of my right foot. But I think the former might be a case of getting-used-to and I'm sure the latter has to do with not wearing socks which, no matter what shoes I'm breaking in, if there aren't socks involved, there are usually blisters to deal with.
Last night, I wore them out to meet up with my son, The Amazing Henry, and he about spit out his teeth when he saw them. He announced that I look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I have also worn them on a couple of long walks now, but sadly, no one has stopped to demand to know what the hell is that on my feet. Which is too bad since I think that actually, the goofy look has been at least as appealing to me as not. Recall I drive a 2005 Scion-- those are the super-duper ugly ones, totally rectangular, fondly referred to in my house as The Japanese Ambulance. When I first bought it, people stopped me all the time: What the hell is that? they wanted to know. I came to love my Scion thanks to its ugliness, not in spite of it. I also love that it's one big box into which I can pack heaps 0'shit.
No room for packing anything into these shoes except my toes. But I'm thinking that, as with the Scion, they are going to grow on me to the point I forget their bizarre appearance. I'm also curious to see what'll happen when I switch back to regular shoes-- for now, as much as possible, I'm only wearing these to see if I can gauge a genuine difference. (Oh, another thing-- my toes, particularly my "bad" big right toe-- or should I say my Big Bad Right Toe-- is cracking a little, which I also like and I'm also wondering if maybe this is due to the forced toe-flexing VFF's require.
So there you go, a totally non-scientific report on my new shoes. I'll post more updates here and there. Meanwhile, since I'm doing shoe shout-outs, let me say that for the France trip, I wanted to get good walking shoes that I could wear casually and with a dress. This was after Chris gave me his advice, so I went to Whole Earth Provision Co. and tried on a bunch of different brands from Keens (which I love) to Merrell's (which got me all over the place in Japan). I wound up with a pair of Patagonia's that hardly have any support at all and I instantly, instantly fell in love with them. You can check them out here. I wore them every single day and there were days we walked up to eight miles, and my feet did great. A little pain, yes, but I chalk that up to the foot itself, not the shoes.
And finally, for now, here is a picture in which the resident Shoe Fetishist, Rebound (aka Dum-Dum) licks her approval of the VFF's.

1 comment:

marquel said...

thanks for posting spike! i just finished reading born to run, and i loved it...i'm even considering switching over to the vibrams and have been reading review...your helped a lot!